Jeremy Lin is a very good basketball player. He’s strong and agile. He sees the court extremely well and he can score in bunches–as he indelibly proved during a delirious fortnight with the Knicks three years ago. Lin played a two-week stretch of high-end hoops that changed his life, galvanized the country, and altered the perception of Asian basketball players–especially among Asians themselves. It’s just this “Linsanity” effect that makes Lin more than just a basketball player–he’s a de facto NBA ambassador to the Asian community.
So it’s a legitimate question: did the Jeremy Lin who averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists last year in Houston just become a big part of the Lakers future for his basketball skills alone? The Los Angeles metro area has the highest Asian American population in the United States, higher even than New York’s. Lin’s agent Roger Montgomery said, after negotiating the deal, “I think landing in Los Angeles is a really cool opportunity for him for a number of reasons.” That number is probably 1.8 million, which is the number of Asian Americans in greater LA. It’s probably also why Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is willing to pay $14.9 million this year for a guy he called in the press release–hold your excitement, Mitch–a “solid player.” (That’s more than Tony Parker, Kevin Love or James Harden made last year.) The California-born, Harvard-educated Lin knows his role in LA isn’t going to be limited to getting the ball to Kobe, though that’ll be helpful. And he’s certainly there to win. But it’s undeniably true that the Lakers will be delighted if suddenly there are a bunch of purple-and-gold Lin jerseys walking around Chinatown.